Summary: The writer of Job explains to us the difference between human wisdom and the wisdom that comes from God. How do we find wisdom?
KNOWING GOD: THE SOURCE OF WISDOM
Why do we need wisdom?
Someone said that knowledge is the ability to take something apart; wisdom is needed to put it back together again. I am not sure where that saying came from but I think it makes partial sense.
A young man in our congregation told me last week that he recently took apart his car’s engine and then put it all back together again. Knowledge tells us where a part of the engine should go. But if it doesn’t fit or something is missing, knowledge alone will be inadequate. Wisdom is needed to see beyond the problem and determine a solution.
Why do we need wisdom?
One aspect of human wisdom is the ability to cope. In our Bibles there are three strands of human wisdom. First, there is proverbial wisdom, the common sense stuff that is passed on about life and behavior. We find this everyday morality lesson in the book of Proverbs. Then there is a deeper wisdom gleaned from intellectual exploration. This type of wisdom searches for the answers to life’s riddles, as in the book of Ecclesiastes. Third, there is human wisdom as seen in Job which marvels at man’s ability to innovate, as we will see. Each strand of human wisdom demonstrates an ability to cope – to cope with everyday demands, to cope with decisions and issues, and to cope with opportunities laid out before us.
Humankind has been searching for wisdom since the beginning. When Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She was deceived by the serpent into believing that she lacked something and that the wisdom in the fruit would help her cope. Eve opened up a world of pain and frustration. So we need wisdom even more to help us cope with life.
It is appropriate then that we turn to Job, a man who endured every kind of loss imaginable, to begin our search for wisdom. In our quest to know God better we will examine Job’s discussion of wisdom in chapter 28. The goal of our study is that we may better know the God of wisdom and find wisdom for ourselves.
1. The Limits of Human Wisdom
Job’s story is one of incredible loss and testing as a result of that loss. His children are killed, his servants slaughtered and his livestock stolen from him. In the second test he is given a terrible skin disease and is such a miserable sight that his wife tells him to curse God and die. He stubbornly hangs on to the faithfulness and goodness of God instead. The rest of the book is a conversation between Job and his friends about life’s trials and God’s part in them.
Chapter 28 is an interlude between these dialogues. Either the writer or Job himself pauses to reflect on human wisdom in verses 1-11 (Let’s read them).
In these first 11 verses the writer delights in man’s ability to mine and smelt and find riches. This is a celebration of man’s skills and wisdom to find wealth.
Digging in: Mining – verses 1-2 reflect on man’s ability to see the worth in silver and gold and iron and copper. In these elements humankind finds the means to build and to buy and to create an economy for vital living. On the surface level human wisdom grasps value in simple mining.
Digging deeper: Technology – verses 3-6 describe the next level of mining. Humans start to think that there must be more precious metals and stones beneath the earth. So they cut a shaft to dig beneath the earth (4) and expose the hidden wealth. The writer also speaks of smelting, the process of refining to separate precious metal from the dross (5), another wise innovation of humankind.
I think that had the writer lived in our time he would have included and marveled at our ability to explore space and land on the moon. Certainly in our times we can see the benefits of technology. We have cell phones and microwaves, email and computers. Technology is seen as the solution to our current problems whatever they may be. Human wisdom continues to advance in the sphere of technology far beyond Job’s imagination.
Digging greater: Mastery – verses 7-8 lord it over the animal kingdom. Here the writer observes how the falcon and other beasts haven’t the intelligence to do what man has done. Birds and beasts would never think to mine the earth’s core. It is a subtle statement that humankind is master of the earth and lord over the animals.
Digging further: Exploration – verses 9-11 tell us that humans are adventurers in the fashion of Indiana Jones, a finder of precious things. “He searches the sources of the rivers and brings hidden things to light” (11). The writer has great admiration for the skills of the miner, for technology, for science and exploration.